Inside the Roland TR‑808

This interactive, animated graphic tells you everything you need to know about how the influential drum machine works.

  • 1Input / Output switch

    When on "input," the 808 can’t work by itself, and requires a separate Roland product for syncing. When on "output," the 808 can control other Roland units.

  • 2Outputs

  • 3Power On / Off switch

  • 4Mode selector

    Switching to PATTERN CLEAR and then pressing the red TRACK CLEAR button will clear the selected (blinking step button) track. The 1st PART and 2nd PART can each contain a programmed rhythm. The MANUAL PLAY, PLAY, and COMPOSE options allow the user to arrange programmed rhythms in various ways.

  • 5Instrument / Track selector

    When the mode selector is on 1st part, or 2nd part, this knob will select which instrument will be programmed. If the mode selector is in play or compose, this knob will select which programmed rhythm will be played or used in a composition.

  • 6Auto fill in selector

    On MANUAL, a fill in can be inserted by the user by pressing the tap button


    . On 16, 12, 8, 4, and 2, a fill in will be inserted every corresponding number of measures.
  • 7Tempo control

    The tempo controls the speed of the beat and has a large dial for broad changes and a smaller dial for more incremental adjustments.

  • 8Voice selectors

    Voice selectors are used for modifying how an instrument sounds. An ACCENT will add emphasis to any voice programmed on the same step.

  • 9Basic variation switch

    The basic variation switch allows the user to program an "A" version sound and a "B" version sound for each step button. If the selector is between the "A" and "B" (the "AB" position), then the "A" sounds for all step buttons will play first, followed by the "B" sounds for all step buttons.

  • 10Start / stop button

  • 11Pre-scale

    The pre-scale determines how many steps there will be for each beat. The time signatures would be 1 = 6/8, 2 = 3/4, 3 = 4/4, and 4 = 2/4.

  • 12Step buttons

    The step buttons are used in programming rhythm patterns as well as selecting which rhythm is played.

  • 13Master volume

    The master volume sets the output volume of the device.

  • 14I / F variation switch

    The I / F variation switch functions similar to the basic variation switch, but only for the Intro / Fill ins.

  • 15Tap button

    The tap button can be used to manually program in real time; if playing in 1st part or 2nd part on the mode selector, tapping the button will add the selected sound to the step buttons accordingly. It can also be used to insert intros and fill ins when in manual play mode on the mode selector.

The inner workings of the TR-808

  • 1"Step button" circuit board

  • 2Main circuit board

  • 3Shield cover

    This piece shields the circuit boards from sound noise than can be caused by interference from the power supply.

  • 4Transformer

    The transformer reduces the voltage of incoming power to make it compatible with the 808.

  • 5Power supply

  • 6Battery compartment

    3 AA batteries work as a "backup" if power is unplugged or fails. If the memory on the circuit board loses power, then programmed rhythms can be lost.

  • 7Microchip & memory banks

Creating a simple rhythm

  • 1Select save slot

    Selecting "1st part" from the mode selector causes the "1" step button LED to flash, which is where the programmed rhythm will be saved.

  • 2Select an instrument

    "BD" or "Bass Drum" is selected from the instrument selector.

  • 3Start the programming process

    Pressing the Start / Stop button starts the program, and the LED lights flash on and off to show which step button is playing.

  • 4Program the part

    As step buttons are pressed, the bass drum sound is added to that step, indicated by scrolling LEDs.

  • 5Add various parts

    The same process can be used for any instrument to add them to the rhythm.